A ‘miscarriage of justice’: Jessica Chambers mistrial reminiscent of 1995 O.J. Simpson verdict

Published 8:12 am Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), Oct. 17, 2017

Quinton Tellis’ malevolent grin on the front page of the October 17 issue of The Clarion-Ledger was disturbing enough to cause Justitia, the Blind Justice, to rip off her blindfold and toss her scales of justice into the nearest river.

The Batesville trial and the jury’s dysfunctional attempt at reaching and announcing a verdict, much of which you can watch on YouTube, is a stark illustration of the deterioration of the U.S. criminal justice system, reminiscent of the miscarriage of justice in O.J. Simpson’s 1995 murder trial.

The O.J. not-guilty verdict was a watershed event. America watched the saga live, from the chase scene on L.A. freeways through the interminable trial and verdict. The country witnessed the destructive force of the racial divide that infects our nation. Race solidarity triumphed over the law and the evidence, which was starkly demonstrated in the polar opposite reactions of black and white viewers when the verdict was read.

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Jeffrey Toobin’s engrossing 1996 book on the O.J. saga, “The Run Of His Life: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” is the definitive work on “The Trial of the Century.” Charles Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s “Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Got Away With Murder,” published in 1996, is an insider’s view of the incompetence of the L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti and his hapless assistants, Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden.

Toobin’s and Bugliosi’s contemporaneous accounts lead to three inescapable conclusions: 1. O.J. did it, 2. Garcetti committed prosecutorial malpractice, and 3. the jury verdict was about race, not the evidence.

Garcetti, bowing to political pressure, made two boneheaded, unforced errors. First, he moved O.J.’s trial from the Santa Monica division, where the murders occurred and where the victims and O.J. lived, to the downtown L.A. judicial division—guaranteeing a jury venire whose racial makeup would be more favorable to O.J.

Second, Garcetti took the death penalty off the table, depriving the prosecution of a “death qualified jury.” In capital cases, prospective jurors who refuse to consider imposing the death penalty cannot serve.

O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark boasted that she had a special connection with black women. Actually, the defense knew from pre-trial research that African-American women would not warm to Marcia Clark. They also knew that the black women on the jury would have more sympathy for O.J. than for the murdered Nicole, in part because of Nicole and O.J.’s interracial relationship. That’s why the “Dream Team” representing O.J. put eight black women on the jury.

O.J. is now a free man, partying in Las Vegas. In the 22 years since his not-guilty verdict, racial animus in America has increased exponentially, especially during the Obama years.

In the Quinton Tellis trial just concluded in Batesville, there was ample circumstantial evidence of Tellis’s guilt, and proof he lied to investigators. Cell phone data analysis and video footage from a local store proved that Tellis was with or near Jessica the night of her death. Tellis admitted to investigators he had sex with Jessica on the day she was doused with gasoline and burned to death.

As in O.J.’s case, the black jurors in Tellis’ trial were presented with a white victim and black defendant who were sexually involved before the murder. In Batesville, three resolute black jurors voted not guilty, causing a mistrial.

The Tellis trial also highlights the harmful effects of the byzantine rules of evidence in criminal cases that began their destructive evolution during Earl Warren’s Supreme Court.

Since Tellis did not take the stand, the State could not make the jury aware of his previous convictions for which he was in prison for much of his adult life.

Nor was the jury allowed to know that Tellis is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Louisiana for theft and misuse of a credit card belonging to Meing-Chen Hsiao, and is awaiting trial for her July 29, 2015, murder in Monroe, Louisiana.

The Louisiana warrant and indictment allege that Tellis tortured the 34-year-old Taiwanese woman for her PIN number, stabbing her 30 times.

The quest for an “unbiased” jury led the Batesville court to import jurors from Polk County, who turned out be uninformed and apparently poorly educated, unable to follow the evidence and conform to the simplest of instructions from the judge.

Somewhere, Blind Justice is shaking her head in sorrow.